It’s a new year and the time for resolutions. But instead of just worrying about waistlines and wallets, how about resolving to finally put your legal affairs in order? Here’s a quick list of matters that deserve consideration in 2016:
1. Create or update a will – if you don’t have a will, you owe it to yourself to give some serious thought to whether you should. If you do have a will, does it still meet your needs? A recent or impending event such as marriage or child birth is a great reason to considering creating or updating a will. But single people without children might need wills most of all, because Louisiana law doesn't recognize boyfriends/girlfriends and friends as having a seat at the table if a person dies without a will. If a single person dies intestate (a.k.a., without a will), all or a portion of their property could go to a family member they've never been close to (such as a parent or sibling) instead of a longtime friend or significant other. A will allows you to have control.
2. Start a business – perhaps 2016 is the year you finally take the plunge and start your own business. Should you be a sole proprietor, an LLC, a partnership, or a corporation? What are the advantages of each entity? What formalities should you follow? All important questions for the budding business owner. If you already own a business as a sole proprietor, it might benefit by becoming an entity with limited liability.
3. Start using contracts in your existing business – you've owned a business for a little while now and have gotten by with handshake deals. Make 2016 the year that you take a hard look at whether your business could benefit by operating with a bit more formality. An often-overlooked benefit of a written contract is that it can expose misunderstandings between the parties on the front end, leading to better communication and modification before a problem ever arises.
4. Get over your fear of power of attorney documents – The term “power of attorney” seems to instill fear in many people, with visions of a nefarious character taking advantage of someone elderly or infirmed. The reality is that a power of attorney is simply a highly customizable document that allows someone else to have legal authority to do a certain action on your behalf. That power can be far-reaching or entirely limited to one specific action. A health care power of attorney, for example, allows another person to make your health care decisions in the exclusive event that you become incapacitated. A more specific power of attorney could allow another person to tend to specific financial matters while you are vacationing out of the country. In instances where mom or dad travels for work, a child care power attorney would allow the other parent to make choices about their child’s well-being while their spouse is away. Perhaps you are a co-owner of a house but you simply cannot be available for the closing – a power of attorney can allow the other co-owner to sign the documents for that house on your behalf. These are just a few instances where a well-crafted power of attorney can be a useful tool in everyday life.
5. Consider a living will – this is a complex topic that really deserves its own blog post, but I’ll just say that you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to seriously consider whether or not you wish to have a living will that expresses your desires about what should be done if you end up in a persistent vegetative state with little chance of recovery.
6. Start looking at having an attorney you know and trust as being part of adult life, no different than having a primary care physician, accountant, or dentist – I’ll expand on my thoughts about this in a future post, but the reality is that legal services are a part of almost every adult’s life. Sometimes those services are in a time of trouble, which is how many people think of needing an attorney. But other times, legal services are needed in a time of promise or potential. The entrepreneur that considers launching a start-up could benefit greatly from a legal consultation. New parents might want to set up a testamentary trust for their child so they can rest easier knowing he or she will be financially protected. In good times and bad, an attorney can fill an important role in your professional network. Shouldn't that be someone you develop a relationship with?
These are just a few ways that you can put yourself, your family, and your business on stronger legal footing in 2016. To talk about any of these matters in more detail, contact me at (504) 298-8018 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.